Scrutiny Co-ordinating Panel – 28 July 2010

Councillors Waltham (vice-chair) Barker, Cawsey, P Vickers, I Jawaid MBE, C Sherwood, Wells and Wilson.

The panel met at Pittwood House, Scunthorpe.

106  DECLARATIONS OF PERSONAL OR PERSONAL AND PREJUDICIAL INTERESTS – There were no declarations of personal or personal and prejudicial interests.

No Whip was declared.

107  MINUTESResolved – That the minutes of the meeting of the Scrutiny Co-ordinating Panel held on 7 October 2009, and the special meetings held on 15 December 2009, 26 January 2010, 16 February, 7 June and 5 July 2010 having been printed and circulated amongst the members, be taken as read and correctly recorded and be signed by the chair.

108  PUBLIC REQUESTS TO SPEAK – There were no requests received

109  WORK PROGRAMME 2010/2011 – Update from the chair and vice-chair of each Scrutiny Panel – The chairs and vice-chairmen of each of the four scrutiny panels for North Lincolnshire Council were invited to provide the panel with a brief update on recent work completed and future work to be undertaken, as well as any difficulties being experienced by any of the scrutiny panels.

Resolved – (a) That the position be noted, and (b) that chairs and vice-chairs remind their respective groups of the need to ensure continuity of membership for each scrutiny panel, wherever possible.

110  (4)  THE FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY – The Service Director Legal and Democratic submitted a report advising members of the emerging views from the coalition government on the future of overview and scrutiny, as well as the key suggestions, ideas and themes arising from the recent Centre for Public Scrutiny annual conference.

Resolved – (a) That members be provided with presentations on the ‘Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting Police and the people’ and ‘Equity and Excellent – Liberating the NHS’ white papers, (b) that consideration be given to agreeing a response to the consultation document from members, possibly aligning this to a response from the council’s executive, and (c) that regular updates on the developments and implications of the white papers for overview and scrutiny members be included in the member development programme.

111  (5)  PERFORMANCE MONITORING – The Service Director Legal and Democratic submitted a report advising members on the proposed future plans for effective performance monitoring.  The council’s four scrutiny panels were loosely aligned to the Local Strategic Partnership’s Local Area Agreement (LAA) themes.  In January 2009 members of the Scrutiny Co-ordinating Panel recommended to council that each scrutiny panel should monitor the progress of their aligned LAA theme(s), holding theme leads to account and take any other action as deemed appropriate by members.

Performance monitoring was now a regular, quarterly item on scrutiny panel agendas with theme leads regularly attending meetings to discuss performance and to be held to account.  However, members had expressed concern about data quality, the quantity and complexity of reports, and how up-to-date the data was which on occasions did not allow them to make informed judgements on progress.

Members also heard that the coalition government had signalled that some targets and indictors across the public sector would be removed.  Further details of these were expected in the coming months, and members would be kept informed.  In addition, the coalition government was currently reviewing the concept of Local Area Agreements, and the future of the Local Strategic Partnership was, as yet, unclear.

Resolved – (a) That the Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel pilot a more concise performance report with up-to-date information during the Quarter 1 performance monitoring cycle, (b) that should the pilot be deemed a success, this more simplified and concise reporting method be rolled out for all thematic partnerships and scrutiny panels, and (c) that members be kept informed of any changes in the coalition government’s plans for democratic oversight and performance monitoring and local future performance management arrangements.

112  (6)  OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY – PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT – The Service Director Legal and Democratic submitted a report informing members of the requirement to engage members of the public in overview and scrutiny, and to establish if this was currently being carried out to its full potential within North Lincolnshire.

Currently, direct input from members of the public was not substantial and there was limited public knowledge and interest in the function.  However, this was not uncommon for local authority scrutiny.  Particular issues and not processes of the council would always stimulate the public and media.

The council had a duty to involve which required the council to ‘embed a culture of engagement and empowerment’ into the authority.  Other communities and local government organisations highlight that greater empowerment can:

  • Ease trust in public institutions
  • Improve the quality of services
  • Take and justify difficult decisions (even ones that the Executive may not wish to tackle, scrutiny was cross party and in the public domain so made it easier to justify).

When scrutiny was established, the government believed that overview and scrutiny would develop into ‘an accountability mechanism which would engage stakeholders and the public’ and that ‘non executive elected members would acquire enhanced roles as community representatives, scrutinising decision-making on behalf of local people’.

Members then engaged in a discussion on how to proactively engage members of the public in overview and scrutiny.

Resolved – (a) That the report be noted, (b) that individual scrutiny panel’s be more proactive when agreeing their scrutiny brief to ensure that all public engagement avenues are explored, and (c) that the chair of the Scrutiny Co-ordinating Panel and the council’s designated Scrutiny Officer meet with the Head of Communications and Resources in order to establish more proactive publicity of scrutiny and its work programme.

113  (7)  OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY AND THE BUDGET – The Service Director Legal and Democratic submitted a report informing members that they had a vital duty to scrutinise and challenge the council’s use of public money.  This duty to local council taxpayers was at the heart of their role and mandate as local elected representatives.  Previous experience showed that councillors find scrutiny of the council budget the most challenging element of their scrutiny role.

Paragraph D5.11 of the council’s procedure rules stated that “the relevant overview and scrutiny panel(s) should be consulted on draft proposals for the council’s annual budget before it was approved and adopted for each council year”.  However, adhering to this procedure rule had proven difficult.

The Centre for Public Scrutiny stressed the importance of not leaving budget scrutiny until the formal budget-making process gets fully underway late in the year.  Finance was not just about numbers – policy reviews and scrutiny of all the council’s priorities need to consider the financial implications and this needs to happen throughout the year if councillors were to have a real impact.

Members then discussed how they could scrutinise and challenge the council’s use of public money.

Resolved – That the council’s designated Scrutiny Officer engage in discussions with the Service Director Finance with a view to the periodic budget review reports he submits to Cabinet being considered around the same time, by an appropriate Scrutiny Panel.

114  (8)  TOTAL PLACE SCRUTINY – The Service Director Legal and Democratic submitted a report informing members of the Total Place initiative.

Total Place was a government initiative, which looked at public services from a “whole area” approach.  The aim of Total Place was to identify and avoid overlap and duplication between organisations therefore delivering both service improvement and efficiencies.  The impact of the economic downturn means all of the public sector needed to find new and more efficient ways to serve the public.

Total Place was local authority led and placed an emphasis on local control and local initiatives.  Nationally, all the major political parties had indicated support for the principles of Total Place.

The two key questions Total Place looked to answer were: 

  • How much do we spend in an area (geographic or service)?
  • If we were starting again would we spend that much money in this way with these organisations?

The ultimate goal of Total Place was better services and better value for money. 

There were 13 pilot areas across England participating in the scheme, with each area ensuring a diverse mix of economic, geographical and demographic profiles.

At the recent Centre for Public Scrutiny conference, a view emerged that, if elected members wished to maintain a role in providing democratic oversight and accountability, scrutiny had to add more value than the traditional model.  Like all services, there would be an expectation that more had to be achieved for less and that scrutiny would have to demonstrate clear added value.

Undertaking ‘Total Place’ scrutiny would allow members to identify and avoid overlap and duplication between organisations therefore delivering both service improvement and efficiencies. 

Resolved – (a) That the report be noted, and (b) that all scrutiny panel’s, when considering future overview and scrutiny topics, consider the concept of ‘Total Place’ Scrutiny in order to identify and avoid overlap and duplication between organisations therefore delivering both service improvement and efficiencies.

115  (9)  EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE – LIBERATING THE NHS WHITE PAPER – The Service Director Legal and Democratic updated members on the white paper “Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS” and the accompanying consultation document “Liberating the NHS: Increasing Democratic Legitimacy in Health”.

Resolved – (a) That members be provided with a presentation on the implications for overview and scrutiny of the ‘Equity and Excellence – Liberating the NHS’ white paper, and (b) that consideration be given to agreeing a response to the consultation document from members, possibly aligning this to a response from the council’s executive or the WHIP.

116  (10)  SCRUTINY APPOINTMENTS ON LOCAL AREA AGREEMENT THEMATIC BOARDS – The Service Director Legal and Democratic circulated guidance for scrutiny chairs when attending thematic board meetings of the Local Strategic Partnership.

Recommended to Council – That the guidance be noted and included in the council’s constitution.

117  MEMBER DEVELOPMENT – The Service Director Legal and Democratic informed the members that it was proposed to hold a minimum of two overview and scrutiny member development sessions in the year.  These would aim to address issues, topics and questions raised by members on disciplines, processes, good practice and future developments of overview and scrutiny within the statutory democratic function.

Resolved – That members forward any suggestions on member development to the council’s Principal Democratic Services Officer as soon as possible.